From the Other Side of the Couch

To repeat the introduction, without having to consider which is more ‘true’, it remains instructive to see the experience of treatment from two different points of view. It is in this spirit that I offer some remembered fragments from my analyses.

I say ‘fragments’ advisedly. I have had four analyses with four distinguished analysts (Rickman, Gillespie, Bion, Segal), each at one time President of the British Society. Although many patients, even analysts themselves, undertake a second analysis (Derrida’s la tranche), usually from a different ‘school’, four bites of the cherry is unusual and it has often been suggested to me that I should write about my experiences. ‘Yes, yes,’ I reply, ‘I am thinking about it, when I can find time.’ But that is not the reason. I have had more than 25 years of analysis, ending some 30 years ago, 50 minute sessions 5 times a week, altogether thousands of hours. But what I recall from my analyses can be counted on my fingers.



Reflecting now on the past, something has struck me. Almost all these memories (excepting one or two paradoxical observations by Bion) are interpretations with which I disagreed, My first analyst was John Rickman who died of a heart attack after 9 months. One day in the course of my brief analysis, I narrated the following incident. When I was 6 years old I was left by my parents on their return to India (my father was in the Indian Civil Service) with my mother’s mother and my elder brother, James, in a house in Aberdeen with a large garden. Every year in the autumn the gardener swept up the leaves from the trees and took them in his wheelbarrow to the rubbish heap. I had a little wheelbarrow and used to sprinkle a few handfuls of leaves in the bottom before wheeling it after him. James remarked how stupid I was in not filling the barrow. ‘Ah,’ said Dr Rickman, ‘but he did not realize – first one leaf, then a second leaf, and now the master stroke, the third leaf.’ By which I took him to mean, ‘First my mother, second my father, and now the master stroke, my brother.’ It was such a brilliant interpretation that I could not bring myself to disagree with him, but as I remembered it, I just sprinkled a few handfuls of leaves in the bottom of the barrow. Dr Rickman had in his consulting room a glass showcase containing a collection of pipes. He took something I said as a reference to the pipes and at the end of the session he opened the case and showed them to me. But, consciously at least, I had not noticed them.

I was with Dr Gillespie for 8 years. I do not remember any of his interpretations.

After a gap I began an analysis with Dr Bion, who had a remarkable gift of participating in the minds of his patients. It is difficult to describe. While other analysts spoke to me, he spoke me. ‘Living like a troglodyte in the unconscious of the patient,’ he called it. I can recall a few of his observations, unusual in an analyst. ‘You are afraid that as a result of analysis, you will become the sort of person you have spent your whole life trying to avoid.’ Or, ‘You know that the quality of analysis you get from me depends on my relationship with my wife.’ I only remember two of his interpretations. ‘You cannot repay your debt to your parents; you can only pass what they gave you on to your children.’ The other was about my mother who died when I was twenty. He said, ‘You can’t do anything for your mother now.’ I felt for him a flash of pure hatred, realizing at that moment that everything I did in life, absolutely everything, was to bring a smile to the face of my mother.

My fourth and last analyst was Hanna Segal (Dr Bion was in the States at the time). I remember only one minor interpretation. I dreamt of mashed potato, which I suggested was a reference to some mixed-up Kleinian theory. Dr Segal said that mashed potato was a food often given to infants. I did not know this and she accepted my association. Why I remember this trivial exchange, I do not know, but I have a vague idea that I found in it some difference of opinion between us on Kleinian theory.

These fragments suggest that we have a tendency to remember the strange, the unacceptable, what is other than ourselves. The familiar, the ordinary, the habitual, in which we participate, with which we identify, is not remembered. But something more is involved here than the experience, common to us all, of noticing the unusual rather than the usual. In his book on ‘Observational Philosophy’, Piatigorsky remarks that he does not quote his sources when their thinking has become his thinking.

If memory in analysis operates on this principle, it would follow that when the patient resonates with the analysis, such that he becomes at one with it, then the embodiment of that becoming is not consciously retained in the memory (if indeed it was conscious at the moment of its happening). In Freudian psychoanalysis the content of the repressed is dissonant from consciousness and it is because of this dissonance that the repression occurs. In my case, it seems, only the dissonant was remembered.

Remembering and forgetting are central to psychoanalysis as a therapy, for Freud took the view that nothing that is conscious can be the cause of a symptom. Our neurotic miseries are caused by the repressed memories that we refuse to remember, our unwelcome knowledge of ourselves that we have decided not to know, which can be restored to consciousness only by the special technique of psychoanalysis. In this topological model of the mind, I do not find a place for the material described above.

If my experience of analysis is not peculiar to myself, it raises a number of questions.

(1)  Can the success of an analysis be measured by how much of it we forget?

(2)  What happens to lost memories, where do they go?
They are ‘gone’ only in the sense that they metamorphose. What I am suggesting is not that there has been a loss of memory, but its transformation into the being of the patient.
In psychoanalysis so-called ‘external reality’ is distinguished from phantasy or ‘psychic reality’. It could be argued that in the life of the mind phantasy has more ‘substance’ than reality itself. The ‘embodiment’, if I can use that term, of the analytic session, by making it part of ourselves, is the way therapy works.

(3)  In ‘forgetting’ the session, what is forgotten?
Forgetting, like consciousness, usually has an object; when we forget, we forget something. Psychoanalysis is, quite rightly, called the ‘talking cure’, a strange and artificial conversation consisting of the ‘free associations’ of the patient and the ‘interpretations’ of the analyst. But words always convey more than is said. André Green observed that ‘The mind needs another mind to become aware of itself. This is ineffable and cannot be described.’ In what passes between analyst and patient there is that which cannot be reduced to words and may indeed not have been conscious in the first place. Perhaps we will never be able adequately to articulate the reality of that experience, but we can point in its direction.